Pharmacy Guild’s medicines shortage ‘scare campaign’ called out

Anastasia Tsirtsakis

27/04/2023 4:36:53 PM

The lobby group has continued to claim that 60-day dispensing will lead to a medicines shortage – but Government figures say otherwise.

A young woman standing in front of empty shelves.
The Pharmacy Guild has claimed that there are shortages for up to 40% of the 325 eligible medicines, but according to the DoH just seven are in short supply.

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia has been a strong opponent to extended 60-day dispensing for 325 eligible medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, a new measure endorsed by the Federal Government on Wednesday following strong advocacy from the RACGP and other medical groups.
The pharmacy owner’s lobby group claims there are already shortages for up to 40% of the eligible medicines and has continued to vehemently argue that doubling prescriptions from one to two months’ supply will worsen supply chain issues, leaving millions of Australians in the lurch for common medicines.
‘Everyday prescription medicine will be put into severe shortages lasting months, not days or weeks,’ the Guild’s National President Professor Trent Twomey said in a media release issued ahead of the announcement.
It has also claimed that 84% of Australians are against the measure, citing data from a Guild-commissioned poll.
‘I don’t want to see a “Hunger Games” stand-off in any community in Australia where some patients get double the medicine they need, while others get nothing,’ Professor Twomey said.

The Guild did not respond to a request for more information related to the poll, including details on the way questions were phrased or the way participants were selected for inclusion.
However, according to Federal Health and Aged care Minister Mark Butler, and contrary to the Guild’s claims, only seven of the eligible medicines are currently in short supply, and there are alternative brands available.
RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins told newsGP the Guild’s approach is complete ‘fear mongering’.
‘This fear mongering is akin to daylight savings and saying that our curtains will fade because there’ll be more sunlight – it’s a complete furphy,’ she said.
Ahead of the Federal Government’s announcement on Wednesday, the pharmacy lobby group circulated an email to its membership, sighted by newsGP, with a call to action against 60-day dispensing.
‘The proposal is dangerous,’ the email reads. ‘We need you to immediately contact your government MP today.’
Signed by Professor Twomey, the email includes step-by-step suggestions on how to raise the issue with a local MP, with members encouraged to pursue a line of questioning focused on the alleged ‘dangers this poses to patients’ and to state that ‘60-day dispensing will make the medicine shortage worse’.
‘Just today I had to tell one of my patients we were all out of <EXAMPLE>. Giving two boxes out instead of one will make this worse,’ the proposed script in the email reads.
‘Sixty-day dispensing will lead to hoarding, and increase the risk of overdoses, including among children and seniors.
‘Can you ask the Prime Minister what I’m supposed to say to my patients when I have run out of their medicine, or when their child overdoses?’
The campaign is reminiscent of the last time 60-day dispensing was set to be brought in, when pharmacy owners said it would have a ‘devastating impact’, before donating $250,000 to the Victorian Labor Party ahead of the 2019 Federal Election in an effort to oust then Health Minister Greg Hunt.
But despite similar pressure being placed on MPs this time around, Minister Butler has called out the lobby group’s approach as a ‘scare campaign’ and cautioned against people taking the Guild’s advice on medicine supply, which he says is ‘monitored very closely’ by authorities.
‘This is not going to change the number of tablets dispensed in a given period of time,’ he said.
‘It is simply going to mean that people can get two boxes at a time, instead of having to get one box and come back twice as often.’
Dr Higgins, who was briefed about the new arrangements by the Department of Health and Aged Care (DoH) on Wednesday, said that the Government has taken steps to ensure the changes will have minimal impact.
This will see a phased approach over the course of this and next year, with the medications coming through in tranches: 100 medicines will be listed in September followed by a second and third round in March and September 2024 respectively.
From 1 July, the Government will stockpile 4–6 months’ worth of medications on shore and pharmacists will be able to access medicines within 24 hours, and within no more than 72 hours for remote areas.
Meanwhile, Minister Butler stressed that not every patient will be attending the pharmacy at the same time for an increased supply.
As part of the strategy, patients will also be required to consult with their GP to see if they qualify for the 60-day dispending arrangements and, if so, obtain a new script.
Dr Higgins said this is an important detail, as it means GPs ‘still have discretion’ over whether or not to prescribe 30- or 60-days’ worth of a medication.
The measure will benefit six million people who live with chronic disease and cut down the number of annual visits to the pharmacy from 12 to six, which is projected to save $1.2 billion over the next four years in dispensing fees.
However, while Minister Butler is adamant that the change will not negatively affect patient access to medicines, he did acknowledge on the Today Show on Thursday that it will impact pharmacy.
‘Which is why I have assured them and assured the community that every single dollar the Government saves from this measure … will be reinvested into pharmacy programs,’ he said.
‘For five years now the independent authority, the experts who run our medicines system, have said that … people should only go to a pharmacy once every two months and get two months’ supply of medicines.
‘We decided to accept the advice and we’re convinced it is the right thing to do … It is good for health, it’s good for hip pockets, it’s the right thing to do for Australian patients.’
Dr Higgins said that it is clear the Pharmacy Guild, which has donated more than $2 million to Australian political parties since 2017, is ‘rapidly losing any capital or sway’ that they have had with the Government.
‘This is Big Pharma who would expect a return on investment with their lobbying,’ she said.
‘At a time when they have recorded record profits and record retail sales, it’s time that they put patients first.’
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A.Prof Christopher David Hogan   28/04/2023 9:23:37 AM

I do not like to see conflict between GPs & pharmacy as I have spent my career in fierce cooperation with my pharmacy colleagues. We have so much in common.
However, I see the benefit in extended prescribing particulrly when it is restricted to appropriate medications.
In the same way as General Practice was distracted by the bulk billing conglomerates with pianos & chandeliers in their waiting rooms that concentrated on price, pharmacy has been distracted by wholesalers that also concentrate on price with similar impact.

Winston Smith   29/04/2023 10:55:21 AM

Pharmacist prescribing. Worst. Idea. Ever.
There is no problem that this solution fixes. It is just a shameless grab for cash. It is a huge concern that the pharmacist diagnoses the illness after taking a checklist history, then prescribes the medication and then supplies the medicine (with an upsell of horny goat weed capsules for good measure). No checks or balances here. I’m sure Prof Hogan is aware of James Reasons’ Swiss Cheese Model of Medical Error. In the pharmacist prescribing solution the holes of the Swiss cheese line up easily with no one else casting an eye on this pharmacist-customer interaction. In the pantheon of stupid ideas this is right up there. This is an accident waiting to happen.